Many wines benefit from a bit of aging, but store your best bottles in the wrong conditions and you may be doing more harm than good. That's where a wine fridge comes in. Wine fridges are designed to keep your wines in the optimum conditions for long-term storage, but what do you need to know to choose the right one?
The optimum temperature for long-term wine storage – for both red and white wine – is between 12–18°C. Maintaining this temperature is very difficult without a wine fridge, and perhaps equally as importantly, wine fridges keep this temperature consistently.
Cellaring and serving temperatures are not the same. Variations in temperature can affect the subtle flavours, so you'll probably need to let your reds warm up a little, and your whites chill before you pour. Though your reds don't need to be room temperature to taste their best, and your kitchen fridge is a bit too cold to do justice to a quality white.
When looking for a wine fridge, there's more to consider than if you were looking for the best regular fridge. Wine fridges differ from standard fridges in several ways. They're designed to maintain stable temperatures between 12°C and 18°C, which is warmer than a typical bar fridge can go. Importantly, they're also designed to control humidity (at around 70%), which your bar fridge can't do. And while a bar fridge can be a bit of a rough and ready appliance, wine fridges are designed to minimise vibration, and come with purpose-built shelves for storing wine.
The cooling technology in your wine fridge will affect vibration levels, as well as price. Compressor-type wine fridges have higher vibration levels due to their mechanical nature, but they tend to be more cost-effective than thermoelectric fridges. Opinion is still divided on whether or not the vibration levels in a compressor-type wine fridge are strong enough to affect the quality of your wine.
Thermoelectric fridges also provide more consistent and controlled temperatures. And while the thermoelectric cooling system itself may be vibration-free, you'll still get some vibration due to the fan – though to a much lesser extent than you would with a compressor.
Most people buy wine fridges for long-term cellaring, but if you also want to serve straight from your wine fridge then look for one that offers different temperature zones. These typically come with a divider between sections, allowing you to keep bottles at different temperatures in different parts of the fridge.
Think about where you want your wine fridge to go, and how much space it'll take up. Models can range from smaller than 85cm high (so they can fit under a kitchen bench) to as tall as a full-sized fridge.
If you're renovating your kitchen or outdoor entertaining area, a wine fridge installed under your benchtop or in your cabinetry can be a real centrepiece, and there are several models that allow for integrated installation.
Wine fridges range in capacity from around a dozen bottles to several cases. Choosing the right capacity fridge for your wine collection should be the starting point on your decision-making process. Opt for a slightly larger capacity if space and budget permits, because once your wine collection's in your new fridge, you may want to add to it. Of course, make sure you can actually fit your new fridge in your house before you buy it!
Where will you keep your wine fridge? If it's close to living areas, noise will be a key consideration (check the noise levels in our wine fridge test). If it's to be in your kitchen, you'll want to install it away from extreme temperature sources such as your oven. If possible, install it away from any area that's subject to temperature and humidity fluctuations such as your garage or attic. Just like your kitchen fridge, your wine fridge needs plenty of room around the sides, rear and top for good air circulation, so factor this into your planning. And keep it away from direct sunlight if possible.
Glass doors are handy so you can find what you're looking for (or stare lovingly at your collection) before opening the door and letting the temperature change. UV light can degrade your wine (which is why wine bottles are typically darkly coloured), so check that the glass door has a UV protective coating, particularly if your fridge will be exposed to bright light. All the wine fridges we tested have glass doors, but some come with solid doors, which provide better UV protection and may also help with insulation.
Are you a wine hoarder? Do you buy wine by the case? Then plan for either a larger model or several smaller models. If your wine fridge will be installed under a benchtop then you may need more than one if you keep a lot of wine. If you buy by the bottle then a smaller model may be suitable for your needs, and will be less imposing in your home.
If you're a champagne quaffer then check if the wine fridge can accommodate these typically wider bottles. We check if a champagne bottle will fit in each of the fridges we test, but if you store a lot of sparkling then the larger bottle size may mean your total bottle capacity may be reduced.
Metal shelving can make it harder to pull out your wines, can transmit more vibration to the bottles and can scratch your labels. Look for wooden shelving with good sliding mechanisms, which means less vibration and better ease of use. But bear in mind the extra thickness of timber shelving can eat into storage space. Check out the shelves before buying, as some wine fridges have wooden shelves but no sliding mechanism.
Individual or bulk storage
Some wine fridges provide bulk storage of wine bottles where they stack on top of each other. This means you can fit more in, but it also means bottles are harder to get to and there's more potential for breakage or scratching labels. Individual storage means less capacity, but your precious wine may be safer.
Some wine fridges have a lock to protect your wines from theft (or to help you think twice before grabbing wines indiscriminately during a dinner party).
Some wine fridges come with an LED light so you can see deeper into the back of the fridge.
Some wine fridges have a humidity control system – typically a small water reservoir that you occasionally have to top up. The fridge's humidity sensor evaporates the water and maintains the optimum humidity (70% is generally considered good relative humidity) in order to maintain cork moisture. This is not particularly relevant for Stelvin seals (screw tops).
If you're keeping different types of wine to store at different temperatures – like reds and whites at ready-to-serve temperature in the same fridge – you should consider a wine fridge that's capable of maintaining different temperatures in different areas of the fridge. Typically these have a warmer section at the top and a cooler section at the bottom.
Like fridges, all the tested compressor-type wine cabinets vibrate, particularly when the compressor runs. Whether vibration "agitates" and affects the quality of wine is contentious. A single study suggests a higher vibration measurement of 20Gal, or 200mm/s², led to an accelerated change in organic acids, tannins and refractive index. Some anecdotal information also suggests that increased vibration during cellaring is probably detrimental to your wine.
Wine fridges vary in type and price, from models costing less than a good case of wine to premium products costing several thousand dollars. As with any appliance, price will typically depend on size and quality. Leaving aside the capacity, the amount you should pay will really depend on the quality of the wines you want to store and how long you're storing them for.
If your wine collection turns over every few months then you probably don't need to fork out a fortune for a fridge, but if you're putting expensive wines away for many years, then the extra cost of a premium model may end up cheaper than wasting those premium wines because they've turned to vinegar.
The good news is that even though your wine fridge is always on, it doesn't need to be anywhere near as cold as a regular fridge. Where a normal fridge might need to get down to 4°C in the fridge area, a wine fridge may only need to get to 12°C – the lower the temperature, the more it's going to cost you.
But how expensive is it to run a wine fridge? Let's look at a small, medium and large wine fridge we've tested from well-known wine fridge brand, Vintec. While exact figures will vary between fridges, this will give you a good idea whether bunging your bottles of Beaujolais in one will blow the budget.
|Fridge size||Model||Capacity||Energy consumption||10-year running cost||Annual cost per bottle|
As with regular fridges, larger wine fridges will use more energy as they've got a larger volume to cool, however economies of scale do kick in, so while a large wine fridge will almost certainly cost more overall to run, the cost per bottle will be much lower.
An important takeaway is don't buy a bigger wine fridge than you need – think about how many bottles you need to store and choose a capacity accordingly, it'll give you the best energy efficiency. And while it's nice to plan for future storage by buying big to begin with, you'll be paying for that empty storage until you've filled it up, so start small if energy costs matter to you.
How did we work out wine fridge running costs? By multiplying the energy consumed by your energy cost per kilowatt hour. For example:
- Your energy costs 30 cents per kilowatt hour
- The VWS050SBA uses 202 kilowatt hours per year
- Your fridge is going to cost $60.70 a year to run ($0.30 x 202 kilowatt hours)
- This works out at $607 over your fridge's 10-year estimated lifetime
- Divide the annual running cost by the capacity ($60.70 / 50 bottles) = $1.21 per bottle per year, provided the fridge is filled to capacity
- Each empty space in your wine fridge makes your cost per bottle increase.
Also remember there are a number of variables that will affect your wine fridge's actual energy consumption. Most important is how you intend to use it. Unlike your fresh food fridge where there's one optimum target temperature, wine fridges can be operated at a range of different temperatures depending on what you want to achieve – are you using your wine fridge for long-term cellaring of red wines, or are you using it to keep white wines at a ready to serve temperature? These scenarios call for very different temperatures, and a given wine fridge's energy consumption will vary accordingly.
Other things that affect wine fridge energy consumption include ambient temperature, exposure to direct sunlight, not having enough space around the fridge for air to circulate, and repeatedly opening the door to stare at your precious collection. Having several smaller wine fridges to make up the capacity of a large one is less efficient – one larger one will be more energy-efficient and cheaper to run.
There are several specialist wine storage services available if you don't have room for a cellar or wine fridge – or, heaven forbid, you just have too much wine to store in your home. If you're serious about wine, these services provide the capacity, security and optimum storage conditions you need for true peace of mind (for a fee, of course).
- General storage businesses such as Kennards offer wine carton storage, with fees starting from around $15/month depending on quantity.
- Dedicated wine storage companies offer a similar service, though their specialisation typically means higher prices.
- Some wineries also provide storage services for their wine club members for a small fee, though you might have a hard time convincing them to store wines from other brands for you.
Temperatures should never become so hot as to spoil the wine or reduce its quality as it matures. The optimum temperature for wine storage is between 12°C and 18°C, but if that's not achievable (because you're not using a wine fridge), then it's better to go too cold (but not freezing) than too hot.
- Store your wine collection in the dark, if possible. At the very least, keep it out of the sun and away from sources of direct heat and cold.
- Never store wine in a garage. They're usually poorly insulated and can be subject to wide temperature fluctuations.
- Don't store wine in a draughty place that's likely to get hot or cold breezes frequently.
- Store near the centre of a home. An area that's away from hot external walls, heaters, ovens, etc. is best, and preferably low down to get the coolest air.
- Use well-sealed foam boxes or similar to insulate wine from changes in air temperature.
- Use a min/max thermometer to check temperature ranges in the area where your wine is stored.
- Find a place that's likely to get the least variation in temperature – both day to night and summer to winter. Fast temperature change inside the bottles is worse for the wine than slow temperature change.
- Don't forget to drink your wine, because it does have a shelf life, even with the best storage conditions. It's easy to squirrel a nice bottle away and then forget about it, but leave a wine for too long and it will start to deteriorate, or even spoil completely, leaving you with a very old, expensive bottle of vinegar.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.